John Burgener Details His Career and Shares Advice for Young Spectroscopists

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At the Winter Conference on Plasma Spectrochemistry, John Burgener of Burgener Research discussed his work with nebulizers and how it led to advancements in inductively coupled plasma (ICP) and ICP–mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

The Winter Conference on Plasma Spectrochemistry kicked off its Heritage Lecture series with an talk from John Burgener of Burgener Research. In his talk, Burgener highlighted his extensive career that spanned multiple industries, including his work as a geophysicist, biologist, geologist, chemist, computer programmer, and physicist. Burgener’s talkcovered a timeframe from the early 1940s until the present day, and it showcased how his initial work building spectrometers led to developments in inductively coupled plasma (ICP) technology and the development of the Burgener nebulizer (1).

Burgener’s lecture was introduced by his daughter Mirah Burgener. Burgener Research, in many ways, is a family business, and it was clear during Burgener’s talk that his family played influential roles in his personal and professional life, helping to shape his career trajectory.

Burgener’s lecture indeed, began with a discussion of his father, John E. Burgener, who began his career working with the Aluminum Company of Canada to covert a wet chemical laboratory into a spectrographic laboratory (2). His father eventually founded his own company, Technical Service Laboratories in 1948, where he built his first spectrometer. Some of the initial features of Burgener’s first spectrometer included a mahogany beam, a 3-m focus, and 15,000 line per inch grating (1).

Eventually, Burgener was introduced into the family business and began to assist his father. He built his first spectrometer when he was 15, and his work building spectrometers helped him land numerous opportunities with the University of Toronto and with his father (1). Some of the jobs he had included serving as a biologist for a University of Toronto biology project, conducting geological work in northern Ontario, and setting up a geochemistry laboratory in Yellowknife. Eventually, this led to Burgener’s career being focused on whole rock analysis, and to meet the demands required of them, as well as to conduct their analysis much quicker, Burgener and his team retrofitted their ICP instruments with improved electronics and created the Legere nebulizer (2).

Burgener spent part of his talk detailing many of the experiences his career afforded him. One of them stood out to me in particular, and that was when he took a trip to Africa in the early 1980s. After witnessing a volcanic eruption near their campsite, Burgener convinced his group to relocate. The next morning, Burgener and his group discovered that their original campsite was demolished (1).

Burgener concluded his talk by explaining how Burgener Research came to be. In the early 1990s, Burgener got involved with developing reusable rockets for space tourism, and he also spent time creating more Legere Nebulizers (2). Because Burgener’s nebulizers were dying after short lifespans, he initially gave up on creating them, until a call from the metal production company Timet got him thinking about how to improve (2). Ultimately, he ended up creating a nebulizer with a longer nose comparable to a concentric design, which improved upon existing nebulizers and led to further innovation, ultimately to the development of the Mira Mist and Ari Mist nebulizers, which Burgener Research is known for today (2).

Burgener’s Heritage Lecture was an interesting insight into his career. Numerous times during the lecture, Burgener stressed the importance of traveling, showcasing through his personal stories how these experiences shaped him personally and professionally.

“I can’t encourage it enough,” Burgener said during the lecture.

Spectroscopy followed up with Burgener about his talk on Tuesday, asking him more about the nebulizers his company is producing, as well as his travel experiences and the advice he would give young people just entering the workforce. Burgener stressed the importance of expanding your horizons because it is from these different experiences that allow one to apply what they learn from these experiences down the line to solve the current problems they face in their work.

“My advice is study everything,” Burgener said to Spectroscopy. “Travel everywhere, get to know people of every culture, race, and creed. Expand your experience of the universe as much as you can and enjoy life. It is then that a lot of your problems become obvious to solve.”

References

(1) Burgener, J. Burgener, J. How Helping My Father Repair and Build Spectrometers Led to ICP Advancements and the Development of the Burgener Nebulizer. Presented at the Winter Conference on Plasma Spectrochemistry, in Tucson, Arizona, on Januaru 15th, 2024.

(2) Burgener, J. History of John Burgener With an Emphasis on Burgener Research and Burgener Nebulizers. Burgener Research Inc. https://www.burgenerresearch.com/JohnBHistory.html (Accessed January 15, 2024)

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